Still Life, Churchill Productions at Shillingstone Railway Station

NOEL Coward wrote the five-scene one-acter Still Life as part of his ten-play Tonight at 8.30 sequence, first seen in 1935.

And although the whole series is a rarity (though you can see it in its entirety at the Nuffield in Southampton until 24th May), Still Life became one of the most famous love stories of all time, transformed by David Lean into the film Brief Encounter.

The enterprising Churchill Productions jumped at the idea of staging the short play on the train at Shillingstone Railway Station, opened in 1863 and closed by the Beeching axe in 1966. The action happens behind and in front of the buffet, with a small audience sharing the carriage.

It’s hardly necessary to tell the story. Laura is waiting for a train and gets a smut in her eye. Doctor Alec is on hand to remove the mote, and they fall in love. Both are married and both are riven with guilt. It can only end in tears, but even the tears are frustrated by the arrival of a garrulous friend of Laura as the lovers prepare for a final goodbye.

The intimacy of the setting for Barbara Arnold’s production, which continues (but is sold out) until 10th May, means that the actors must tone down any declaiming and rely on subtlety.

There are few better able to accomplish that feat than Jan Wyld, whose Laura not only finds the period feel of the speech and the emotions, but shows her broken heart by tiny hand and shoulder movements with unbearable poignancy.

Sammy Upton’s flirtatious and pretentious Mrs Bagot is a comic joy, and Barbara Arnold makes the very most of her brief moment as Dolly. Sue Olds’ coy simpering is matched by the lusty Andy Oldfield.

Mark Ritchie’s Alec was gentle and serious, but for my taste a bit too modern, (not aided by his tie).

The production is raising funds for the Shillingstone Railway Station Project and the Michael James Music Trust, and was sold out early enough to allow more performances to be slotted in, quickly booked by those on the waiting list.

A site specific show was an exciting new venture for Churchill, whose next show is Ayckbourn’s Taking Steps at the Tivoli in Wimborne in November.


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